De-wintering: enjoying seasonal transition by soaking in joys of melt and ice

Late March where I am, this year, means one can experience this combination: 1. Spring-like weather warm enough that I don’t need bulky winter clothing anymore, plenty of sunshine, and birdsong 2. a winter-like woods where the floor is mostly covered with snow 3. the sound of rushing water (in a park which doesn’t have any rivers or streams normally). Lovely that I can experience all that at the same place and time!

I’m not quite sure what to call this time of year. Most of the snow is gone, and temps are mostly easily above freezing, so it doesn’t feel like Winter. I’d call it Spring or Early Spring, but others might not think that qualifies either; little new plant growth yet. But the birds are active, we’re in the late stages of a long melt; perhaps we could call this ‘de-wintering?’ The period of uncovering, when the snow goes away and we can again see what it covered (… plus what was added to those places during the winter; the refuse left behind from piles is a not-so-appealing, and human-created, part of the uncovering…)

The paths were mostly ice, but usually with a mushy layer on top that provided a decent grip, if I walked carefully. My steps were fairly noisy: crunchy, ringing with an occasional high-pitch, but also thudding as they skidded, rolling. (I recommend boots with good traction for such conditions.) At times, the ice would softly crack, and shift down an inch or so; in one area, I could step and squish out water, which entertainingly slid out of from underneath the spots I stepped in 🙂

The forest floor was mostly covered in snow, but most objects above no longer had snow on them. Plus, near trees and in some other spots (in patterns that were erratic), I could see piles of leaves. So this was a landscape in white, grey (shadows) – and lots of shades of tan and brown. (Plus just a touch of dark red.) Such woods – which of course once covered some of the land where cities and towns now reside – demonstrate to us what snow-melt patterns might have been like in our areas before we removed the trees (and changed climate patterns, of course).

Perhaps the most striking feature was the melt patterns. Little streams of water rushing down the slope sometimes appeared underneath the snow cover – and at other times remained under. It looked as if the tiny streams had eroded channels, smoothly, down several inches or more (I don’t know if that’s what actually happened, but that’s how it looked). Some of those had turned into ‘dried-up stream beds,’ as channels shifted; a place where water once pooled up might now be dry. (Well, dry except for the frozen water bordering it.) This is a landscape constantly shifting and transforming.

On a smaller scale, I continually found it amusing to see leaves and branches sunken into the ice. Apparently they concentrated heat in such a manner that melting took place underneath them, leading to a path spotted with leaves a little below the surface. (Along with a little brown-tinted water around them, often. I’m someone who loves the whiteness of snow; those more open to appreciating yellow and tan snow might find this more appealing than I did 😉

In other areas, there were small-scale regular patterns that were striking to observe (and difficult to appreciate on film, alas) which looked like nothing so much as slight ripples on a pond, frozen in place. A nice case where the visual metaphor reminds us of what the substance is: water!

When I stopped to take note of the patterns of the ice, I saw that they were fairly striking, too. The crystalline patterns of the melting and refreezing lead to a lot of diversity in what’s on the path. A lot of frozen particles catching light from a variety of angles! This, indeed, is something one can see in many places at this time of year. Patterns develop where mini-pillars, like tiny blocks piled up, form, and can be briefly seen. (At times, I even find this appealing in the blackened piles of snow around parking lots… but I admit I can’t hold that appreciation for too long.)

Lake Winnebago looked wilder today than it has for much of the winter. The shanties, the cars were no longer present out there; it no longer looked like an area that humans had staked out roads to make use of. (I did see and hear one vehicle, an ATV I think, heading across.) And I think it *is* wilder at this time of year than at others, in a sense. Americans like to define and control nature (particularly dramatically in the case of wetlands). But this could not be fixed as ‘ice’ that one could drive on, or ‘water’ than one could boat on. It was not securely one or the other. The tracks of snowmobiles, the roads on the snow, were only barely visible at this point; as the snow melted, tracks faded. Those signs of human management of the ice made sense when the ice was more solid, but (with appropriate symbolism) have been lost as the ice returns to looking more like a wilderness that humans must think carefully about how to use (or avoid until it is safer).

The whole experience reminded me a bit of the time I’ve spent in the summer visiting glacier ice; the mix of warmth, snowpack, and melt-rivers. It was amusing here in Wisconsin (and perhaps a little dangerous, I admit) to be walking above flowing water (usually, on ice less than a foot above the surface). The remnants of snow in most areas might be decisively human-shaped (the dark piles around parking lots). But one can head to the woods to see natural elements at play, melting and flowing in a series of patterns that change quickly. Streams, trickles, snow, ice – where these are is in constant change, in what might be the period of the year with the least stability and the most variety. See what it has to offer today!

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My thoughts on winter 2014; snow that stays around

As we exit the three coldest-average-months of the year (or ‘meteorological winter’), I will begin to wind down my promotion of winter appreciation for the season. Now seems like a good time to reflect back on what I have observed during this winter, and what this winter has meant to me.

I launched my project in December 2011, so it was rough to have so little snow during the first year of my project! Remember that in 2012, Milwaukee set a record for its longest stretch of days *without* snow cover, so our current streak of almost 3 months with snow cover has not quite balanced that out. The last two winters have been ones with more to offer a snow-lover; it had been a while since I’d seen a winter where as much snow was left around as last year’s, and the colder temps this year have limited melting even more.

For me, it has been nice again to have snow stick around! I’d gotten used to snow coming… and then much of it going soon, melting away. I prefer the rhythms of a winter where snow sticks for weeks. (And I think many others share this sense – if you’re going to have to deal with driving in the snow, plowing, shoveling, etc, why not have more of a payoff a week later than some greyish piles on the side of the road?)

Despite the winter drama, this doesn’t feel to me like a winter where we get big blizzards; or if we’ve had them, I haven’t been able to get out during most of them. Instead, we’ve had smaller storms, but on a regular basis. And more notably, the snow has only melted a little, so that it stays in place – indeed, it keeps building.

Piles we push up grow; and we can watch the snowline slowly rise on trees. I have few places at present with which I have the kind of intimate familiarity that I truly can tell how high it is rising, so for me it has mostly looked roughly the same. A soccer goal in a nearby park looks shorter and shorter; the snow rises higher along the walls of my workplace. Benches get more buried. But overall, I’ve found depth a hard thing to gauge visually. Perhaps what is more noticeable are certain absences; certain rolls in the landscape get buried, replaced by patterns of snowdrift – and unless we know the land intimately, it is hard to remember what is covered. On the other hand, when I try to walk in it, I definitely can fall further as the season goes on 😉


So it is nice to have horizontals, especially fallen trees, so can get sense of how much snow has fallen. I can see how much snow has piled up on a log lying sideways, and then remember how much snow lies over the rest of the ground.


I have realized this year that my impressions about winter were shaped by winters with snow-and-melt cycles; and I need to recalibrate some of my perspectives. For instance, I had assigned snowstorms a larger role in ‘where snow appears’ than makes sense in colder winters. I get excited to see snow layered on branches, which might be particularly memorable for a day or so after a dozen snowfalls or so. But that’s only a relatively small part of what snow is during a colder winter. When the snow doesn’t melt soon afterwards, it means that a larger % of snow-as-experienced is snow that sits on fields and in piles, week after week, fairly similar.

Since the places it sits are fields and piles, persistent snow tends to be mostly fairly close to the ground. Landscapes without architecture tend to feel like cream-layered places on the ground and near it; snow piles up on low-to-ground on objects, it sticks around longer on broader, low branches. (I can see why might be a season more appreciated by children; since they are lower to the ground, they are more likely to feel surrounded by snow.) Meanwhile, dark trees dominate one’s view above a few feet (often with a backdrop of snow in the distance). Trees can blur into darkness; or, on sunny days, stick out as dramatic contrast to the snow, in this season of chiaroscuro.

Also, in warm winters I had gotten used to seeing more change day to day, either from snowfall or melt (including how snowfields grow pitted). These changes happen more subtly when deep freeze seems to lock more snow in place. Some of them are harder for us to observe this year; when water off the shore of Lake Michigan stays frozen for dozens of yards into the lake, we can’t observe the daily changes on the shore I saw in past years. Nuanced changes in snow patterns can be hard to see, particularly on sunny days when the glare off the snow is bright. New snowfall isn’t as distinctive when it falls on top of a good layer of snow; it mostly just reinforces the existing view.

Instead, I’m taking time to reflect on what it means to me to have, day after day, snow out my window to observe. To go to bed, leaving my window open so I can see that glow of white on the ground. To wake up and have bright sun and snow shining for me. A presence of unbroken snow in a nearby park to soothe me; a snowy field that gets periodically re-swept by new snow and by breezy days. And I knew that it would not melt, that I could return to it for consolation and good cheer day after day.

I try to think of how to describe it. I think of the ‘warmth’ it provides to an otherwise darker landscape. It does that visually, but snow is cold, so that doesn’t sound quite right. I’ll keep working on my metaphors.

The darkness is a gift of winter; while we rely so much on sight, being reminded of what we cannot see (see physically, and intellectually as well) is also important. A season when we use the dark is helpful for the mind’s palate, and can remind us to look up in the sky and ponder our place in the universe. In Wisconsin, this darkness sometimes comes paired with another gift; snow on the floor to match the dark in the woods and sky. Darkness, yes – but also striking contrasts, a hazy hopeful light that remains on the landscape’s floor at night, and more.

It has been a while since I’ve had a winter like this. I’d forgotten what it was like. I have enjoyed the chance to see what it has to offer! And I will look forward to seeing what the other seasons have to offer, each in their turn.

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Roundup of writing about winter 2013-4

As we enter late winter, I thought now might be a good time to share some of my favorite essays about appreciating the season which were published this winter.

Elegant explanation of an interesting project that connects past experiences of winter in a place to present visitors of place:

A piece that focuses attention on trees, and what they offer to urban scenery during the winter (specifically about elms in New York City, but you can consider other examples closer to home).

A nice photo-based piece on ice caves in the Apostle Islands: Another piece demonstrates all the wonder and fun people experienced while visiting the caves:

An author writing a story, one word at a time, each word imprinted in a different snow scene:

A math professor’s reflections:

Milwaukee photographer and writer Eddee Daniel’s reflections on one day’s experiences skiing in Milwaukee:

And I’ll also share my piece about an unusual Wisconsin winter tradition:

And a news piece with some perspective on the season that will seem surprising to most of us in Wisconsin:

I am happy to hear other recommendations for articles that help us appreciate the kind of winters we have in Wisconsin. (As well as for articles on appreciating Wisconsin winters during other seasons, which I can share through my list at ) I may update this post at the end of winter; and I think I will try to do this in future winters as well. Here’s to enjoying what every season has to offer, while that season is around…

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Watching the snow: images of beauty I find in shadow patterns

Perhaps the leading theme of my snow photographs is the patterns I try to capture. What shadows are trees casting? There are so many different arrangements of branches, snow drifts, brush, and other things that keep recreating new patterns to find with each new day.


I will walk along, and watch for what catches my eye; where I see lines drawn out. What little wonders are there to see? Scenes can be enjoyed in the moment – they can be captured in pictures. On another day, perhaps the snow would’ve been higher, the plants bent differently… but on the day I took the previous picture, I found this lovely balance of rounded brown plants and rounded shadows; two sets of lines with the same source, but with differences that make this a striking ‘mirroring.’

There are plenty of nooks and niches where one can find scenes like the one below:


How does the angle of the sun, and the drifting of the snow, bend shadows? How do they cross each other, how does a web develop? How does a mixture of faint and deep shadows develop? This day was one of the many bright sunny winter days – a good time to watch sunlight sparkle off the snow! (That sparkling I do not believe can ever fully be captured on film – it needs to be enjoyed in the moment.

On some days, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of patterns left behind:


Let us hope we all can leave a legacy of tracks as rhythmic and elegant as these 🙂


To find the most patterns… head off into the woods. You can watch how paths and tracks cross them; or you can capture images of fresh snow. With the sun at the right angle, patterns can stretch on and on… (on the edge of a frozen lake, on and on without interruption). There’s a surprising amount of shading here. And more variety than one might realize; the snow drifts, but it also curves to follow what is underneath, to an extent.

On the day I took that last photo, I was entertained to see the changes in shadow patterns as the sun moved across the sky. At first, I focused on the white of snow, while watching to see which marks the trees lay down. As the sun went down in the sky, shadows appeared to grow longer. But even moreso, the area of shadow grew; it felt blockier. Eventually, the snow was mostly shadowed; at that point, the rays of white were what stuck out.

This winter’s continued cold means that our snow cover has lasted. How much longer it will last, we don’t know. It is the snow, after all, that creates these sharp contrasts of white and shadow, which we would not see in any other season. So I hope you get out soon and take a look for the patterns you can find!

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Walk Across Lake Winnebago: impressions from my first time crossing the ice

This is one of the more unusual Wisconsin winter activities I have heard of. Hundreds of people covering the width of Lake Winnebago by walking across it? I was excited to try this out the year I heard about it… but unfortunately, our stretch of recent mild winters meant that the walk had to be called off the past two years. This year, I got my chance! So my ladyfriend and I headed out.

The Walk Across Lake Winnebago began with a bus ride to take us to the opposite side of the lake. This was a bus full of adults, and so partying was key to the atmosphere, and the discussion.

These were people who came ready for a winter event. People were dressed warmly; properly prepared. Throughout the event, I did not hear anyone complain about being cold. What a relief for me, after all the complaints the media and casual conversation make about how intimidating and unpleasant they find winter, to be around plenty of people ready to go out into winter like it’s no big deal!

And this was no event for the hard-core only. Yes, it involved walking eight miles, and doing so while wrapped up in winter clothes. But this was no race, it did not involve testing one’s extreme abilities. It was a lot of average people ready to have a nice walk outdoors… in the middle of winter. For 2-3 hours. In temperatures around 10 degrees. On a snowy path across a frozen lake.

When the bus arrived on the eastern side, we then had to walk (perhaps a mile?) from our drop-off point to the lake itself. I was a little nervous about the walk at this point, since the road we walked on was fairly slushy and slippery. I did appreciate this portion from a landscape-encounter perspective: this is a lake which is bordered by cliffs on one side, so it felt appropriate to begin by walking down a hill to get to the lake.

The walk over the lake itself proved smoother. The path was not slushy. There was a plowed road across, two lanes wide, easy to walk on. Actually, these seemed to be roughly ideal walking-across-lake-conditions; enough snow for traction (rarely did I see exposed ice), since walking on the ice itself would have been trickier.DSC06807

Since the road was plowed, there were borders (1-2 feet high, often) on each side. (Until the last mile or so, which did not follow the main road across the lake, and thus was less level, and narrower.) So the route felt prepared, and somewhat contained. I stepped off to the side a few times to soak in the feeling of the frozen lake a bit more, and sat on the side too. I don’t recall if I saw anyone else doing that.

As far as ‘knowing nature through labor’: I now know the width of lake via my own effort! It gives me some pride, and greater awareness of my area, to know the size of this lake through my effort.

This was longest distance I’ve ever walked while being able to see the whole distance most of the way, shore to shore. As you might image – or have experienced from canoeing or swimming – the size of the shores changed *slowly,* progress takes effort. I said “most” of the time: at times, snow would block out shores… so I just knew I had to walk further than I could see!

I have mentioned the road, and we got plenty of glimpses of how, when the lake is frozen enough, it is used for transportation. I have some experience of this from the lake my grandparents lived on, but not on such a large scale. We certainly did not feel isolated out on the lake. (My pictures are somewhat misleading, in part because I wanted to capture the depth, not the groups of walkers closest to us; with a steady stream of walkers, we always felt amidst company.) Along with the road, there was a constant set of tracks we could see on both sides of us. There were many ice-fishing shanties to see, grouped primarily in a few locations. Vehicles used the road, too; several dozen trucks passed us.

Also, there was a line of old Christmas trees marking a route, perhaps fifty yards from the road itself. For the unfamiliar, sticking such trees on the lake, at regular distances, provides a convenient way for drivers to identify the path across a lake (particularly when it covers such a distance).

Along with that, there were the social spots – these are Wisconsinites in winter, after all! People used to ice-fishing and Lambeau Field are going to have themselves a good time on a winter walk, too! (See for related reflections of mine.) People, including at least one biker, hauled beers on sleds; apple pie shots; and beer and brats waiting for us when we crossed the lake! This felt very much in the tailgating tradition. There were, if I recall correctly, and three spots where people gathered and hung out a bit (or waited in line for restrooms, at least), highlighted by the halfway point, where dozens of people hung out.

It was a friendly group. One person saw me resting, asked if I was ok, and offered me some water (should’ve come prepared…) I appreciated that generosity, as well as the casual, friendly tone of other walkers who I heard from. People weren’t in much of a rush, so they could talk on their way.

Thinking about it, participants put in an impressive effort, especially for such an unusual thing. We know the kind of credit we assign to, say, marathoners, or fun run participants. But for this? People spending 2-3 hours constantly on their feet, light exercise, often with fairly weighty clothes. And while this wasn’t bitterly cold, it was cold – my cheeks did get pretty chilled at points, and I was glad that I came dressed warm. How many other people walk – not drive, snowmobile, canoe, sail, snowshoe, etc – across such a distance in winter?

What moved me the most were some magic moments near the middle when snow started falling at a decent rate… and the shorelines disappeared! I stopped to look around, to soak it in. I started from the shore, and now here I was, able to see snow-flats around me, snow falling near me, snow-fuzziness in the distance. But for all I could see there, there was no world around me except for that snow 🙂 I let my mind roam a little. (If I get the chance again, I’ll wonder longer…)

This was an encounter with the wildness of winter. The chance to look off into the distance, see the sky aflight and abuzz, and feel stirrings of hope that something wonderful exists beyond… and knowing in my heart that something wonderful *does* exist there, the opportunity to be surrounded by such a globe of whirling snow. (And I was not alone in doing so, hundreds of people chose to immerse themselves.)

This is a moment I have longed for. I have had related moments on Milwaukee lakeshore, when all I could see was the nearby forest and some of the lake ice. But this moment felt further out. Here, I could kind of imagine that I was off on some epic journey, to who knows where… I was in the midst of a step into a temporarily unknowable (if not trackless) world. I cast about for an epic to match this with in my mind. (I did get a better sense of the battlefield Alexander Nevsky managed…) And yet, there was a steady stream of people ahead of me and behind me, sharing the trek, so it wasn’t so lonely-heroic. (Plus, if I looked in the right directions, I could see a few ice shanties and automobiles in the distance.)

So thanks to the organizers for giving me the change to feel that magic in the middle of the lake – and to do so in the midst of my own effort, and to do so safely. And thanks to the participants for being willing to take the time and effort to have a good time in the middle of winter… in the middle of a lake!DSC06825

[Note: I later wrote a piece you can check out on the history of the Walk,]

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Value of patience during Winter

Winter is a season that rewards patience. Those who are impatient are more likely to get frustrated – and less likely to appreciate what the season has to offer.

What are some of the situations in which patience is a winter virtue?

So you budget enough time to clean your car off, and to get it running.

So you have enough time to get places, and do not have worry about rushing. (Dangerous driving conditions are not a good time to feel compelled to rush.)

So you have enough time to get dressed; and to take off that warm clothing when you get to your destination. (This is also an issue for summer heat, with swimsuits and sunscreen, don’t forget. But most people don’t seem to see *that* as as much of a hassle, I think?)

So you have time to strap on skis and snowshoes, before heading out to enjoy the snow.

So you don’t get annoyed at winter. If carving out a few extra minutes to deal with these issues would have allowed you to keep a more even tone, remember to revise your schedule. (With all the conveniences we have, technology that lets us avoid many of the more drastic measures people took to deal with winter in the past… the more minor adjustments we have to make do not seem like such a big deal to me.)

Perhaps most importantly: so you have time to appreciate winter. Find time for a walk. If you rush through the less pleasant parts of winter, your experience will focus on that. If you make sure to budget time so you can get out and play and observe, your winter perspective will include positive images and memories which you can draw on. Winter won’t provide its moments of beauty (or its moments to, say, build a snowperson) on a schedule, so you’ll need the patience to adapt to that. But I hope you will appreciate the benefits of being patient!

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Culture of Cold at Packer games: Lambeau fans and Cold Weather

I went to two Packer games this season, on December 22 vs. Pittsburgh and the January 4 playoff game vs. San Francisco. Few other events get as many people outside for as long in the cold as Packer games do. So I wanted to reflect a little on how Packer fans have a good time in the cold weather: how do Wisconsin residents adapt to the ‘frozen tundra’ experience? Are Packer fans crazy? Why do we take pride in sitting (and drinking) in the cold?


Before the 49er game, there was a lot of media attention given to the potential for extreme cold, the possibility that it might be the coldest NFL game ever. (It ended up around 20 degrees away from being the coldest. A huge difference.) Some writers still found the single-digit temperatures intimidating: Will Leitch said of Lambeau attendees “I can guarantee you an extreme few of them had a good time.” But for those who, unlike Leitch, actually attended the game… well, from what I saw, the weather actually didn’t seem to affect people that much. Sure, people were somber after the Packers lost. But did they have fun before and during the game? Yes, it looked like they had plenty.

At the first game, I talked some about the weather with my neighbors in the stands, but that likely had a lot to do with the fact that I sat with several family members. At the second game, I heard few comments from fans about the weather. Hard to imagine, perhaps, with all the coverage the media gave this oncoming polar vortex, but it wasn’t a big topic for the fans. I spent well over an hour riding a bus back and forth to the second game, and little of the discussion there had to do with the cold, either. People did discuss the cold when it was time to head on out from the bus, but they sounded fairly practical: not complaining, just discussing what they would be wearing, and preparing to head on out. (With a little touch of ‘whoa, this is pretty cold,’ to be sure.)


Was I cold at the games? Well, during the first game, my seat was high up, and my face got chilly at times, but the rest of my body was ok (and I underdressed a little). For the second game, I ended up being fine: my feet got cold at points, but the free hand-warmers eventually warmed those up.

So how did the fans handle this? Well, we live in Wisconsin. We’re used to being in cold weather, to going out into it. (Perhaps sportswriters like Leitch, a native of central Illinois, are not so used to this?) So yea, you’ve got to put a lot of clothes on. Yea, it takes some time to work through those layers when you’re in the restrooms. But people already acquire warm clothes for outdoor winter activities: we like our hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, and more. (Is Leitch familiar with ice-fishing?) So, you can take those clothes and wear them to the Packer game! (Setting this game apart, to be fair, was the fact that a notable portion of the fans sat under blankets.) And that sets the ‘style’ people are looking to achieve 😉


Some of those activities I mentioned involve sitting for long stretches, so people get practice at that outside of Packer games, too. That said, a nice thing about the playoff game was that the intensity level was high enough that I got to stand for much of the game; that allows one to move around more, and I find that movement makes a big difference in providing warmth when one is out in cold weather.

As for me – most of the Packer games I go to are in December and January. So I’m kind of used to feeling a chilly wind on my face as the music kicks in, as the crowd gets up to roar… and it seems a little odd to me when I got a game and I *don’t* feel that cold 😉

So people like me head on out – and yea, we’ll talk a little about how ‘whoa, this is cold’ and ‘yea, we’re kinda weird for doin this’… but mostly, it’s a game, and we’re goin! Indeed, I think one could say that that Packer fans look at the cold as somewhat of a point of pride. The fact that our team plays on a ‘frozen tundra’ on occasion (the Ice Bowl providing the epic extreme) – and that fans sit around them as they do so – becomes something that shapes a Packer fan identity as ‘people who can deal with the weather / the cold.’

And an identity as people who are dedicated, who will go out, support what they are loyal to, hang out with their friends, tailgate, enjoy themselves – even when the temperatures are around zero. This is part of the identity fans and media coverage alike promote in relation to Lambeau. Why not adopt it as a general perspective on our state throughout winter? Instead of thinking of cold and snow as things that might get in our way – we can be proud of the ways we adapt to the weather. We are loyal, we enjoy ourselves, in all kinds of weather. Winter just provides us with some distinctive means of doing so. Let us keep that spirit alive, at Lambeau and elsewhere as well!


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January 25 and 26: Great Weekend for Winter Celebrations!

Taking time out to get outdoors is an important part of winter appreciation. Here’s a great chance to enjoy winter with others who are ready to celebrate it too! Make some happy winter memories 🙂 Get out while the sun is high, when the snow sparkles and you can see shadows, while things are bright… or take a candlelit ski, and enjoy the age-old magic of fires providing light, as you get close to the darkness of winter. (See my preceding post for more on winter and darkness.) Here are a few links providing examples of how to enjoy winter this weekend:

Winterfest with the Urban Ecology Center, Sunday, Milwaukee (For some images of a past version, see:

Winter Carnival at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Milwaukee County, Sunday

Winterfest in Green Bay, Saturday

Winterfest in Beloit, Saturday

Eagle Days at 1000 Islands Nature Center in Fox Cities, Saturday

Check out for mentions of candlelit ski/hike events at Kettle Moraine, Point Beach, and Governor Dodge State Park.

And starting next week, the national snow sculpting competition, held in Lake Geneva: I enjoyed the snow sculptures at Racine’s Big Chill once again – here’s another chance to see sculptors at work!

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Appreciating darkness during winter

I plan to spend some time during the rest of this winter appreciating what winter nights have to offer. I have been reading “Let there be night: testimony on behalf of the night,” edited by Paul Bogard, an interesting book that reminds me of many of the “gifts of darkness.”

Winter has the longest nights of the year. So it has the most darkness for us to face. As with cold and snow, I propose that we should try to take advantage of what winter has to offer.

Most Americans today live in communities where lighting is so extensive that our perspectives on night become limited. We can no longer see many stars; we no longer feel the deep spaces far beyond us, and night loses some of its power. Certainly this is a problem in a metropolitan area like Milwaukee, although I did find a number of nights each year when I could see over a hundred stars while walking along the lakeshore.

But the darkness has something to offer; it can help us reflect both inwardly, and outwardly. We can look outward, because looking at distant stars can remind us that our place in the universe is but a small one. A reminder that can be unsettling at times, admittedly. Similarly, stepping out into the cold reminds us that just because most humans choose to stay indoors does not mean that the world stops; other creatures continue their lives even in the bitter cold. Much exists beyond our comfort zones, whether it is the temperature or the distance that unsettles us. We need such reminders.

Darkness also provides a chance to look inward. What would a spiritual ‘dark night of the soul’ be like without a long dark to be part of? If winter leads us to be indoors more often, we can use that time for productive reflection. If we can’t see much looking out our windows at night, then turn the eye inward, to see what we can discover in our hearts and minds. (TVs and warm houses are pleasures, but we need to step away from them and rely on our own imagination, and our own body heat, at points.)

And do not forget the pleasures snow can bring to darkness. I have recently enjoyed sitting at my window and looking out at the mix of shadow and glow that I can see as the moon casts its spell over the landscape. Snow’s reflective properties provide a luminous quality to the floor of the landscape, a quality not there during other seasons. Sometimes I might just look out at that dim radiance amidst the darkness. At other points, I focus on the shadows of trees, something else one cannot normally see at night.

I hope to return to this topic after a month or so. Until then, I hope that you as well as I will spend some time appreciating what we can find in the dark.


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Winter in 2014: re-introducing the MilwaukeeSnow page

I wanted to welcome readers back, to the 4th winter of my project to increase appreciation of what winter has to offer in Milwaukee and Wisconsin! We are approaching a period of bitter cold, when patience with winter may be difficult to find… but I hope you will keep looking for positives to appreciate. Unlike some of the past few winters, this time we have received cold and snowy weather early on in the season, and some of that should stick around a while for us to check out later!

This started off as a Facebook page designed to share my enthusiasm for winter:

During the 2nd year, I expanded the project, with a new title: Milwaukee’s Ambassador of Snow!

It has continued since then, on a somewhat smaller scale, as a means to share my thoughts, and interesting links. I also have expanded my area of interest, covering material from throughout Wisconsin.


This year, I have found that the Snow Addiction page is doing a strong job of covering general material, so I am going to cut back on that some to focus more on local stuff. You can follow them at ; and on Facebook, where they’ve posted links to a lot of nice photos.

I want to plug a new book that should be of particular interest to my readers: Jerry Apps’ 2013 book about winters in rural Wisconsin:


Check the ‘about’ section for more on this project. For examples of my favorite posts, and my ‘statements of purpose,’ see

I also want to ask for your input. Feel free to share links to others’ blog posts or articles that celebrate Wisconsin nature and other winter highlights. In particular – if you wrote something, let me know! (I would also be interested in having guest posts, if people have things they would like to share.)

In the comments section here, on Facebook, or elsewhere, I would be happy to hear: what are favorite spots everyone should know? What are examples of out of way magic moments you have encountered, which remind us to look to see what our areas have to offer?

Keep looking on the snowy side, stay safe, and happy winter!

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